Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
As children we sang with youthful enthusiasm, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” Little did we realize the implication and seriousness of what we sang. Only as we grew older did we learn that each one of us who is born in the line of God’s covenant is a recruit in the regiment of Christ Jesus, called to fight the battle of faith all our life long.
We are not volunteers for Jesus, as if we choose Him. But He chose us and privileges us to be a part of that mighty army that fights the battle of the living God, going forth conquering and to conquer unto the day of our ultimate triumph in Christ Jesus in glory.
All those who are born of believing parents bear the ensign of the army of Jesus Christ. All who are baptized wear the outward mark that distinguishes us from the world. All are under the external calling of the preaching of the Word, whereby we are called to be faithful soldiers who fight God’s cause in an evil world. Therefore it is a most grievous sin to be a draft dodger or to go AWOL, to ignore or reject this calling. Those who do so, carry that mark of distinction even unto eternal damnation in hell.
But this call of the gospel is efficacious for us who are born again. We are made willing soldiers of the cross, prepared to serve in the army of our God. We bear the insignia on our foreheads and the seal in our hearts that we are of the party of the living God, standing opposed to all the powers of darkness, prepared to fight the battle of faith even unto victory!
We find ourselves surrounded by enemies everywhere. In fact, we experience that this enemy is even within our hearts, as well as in the world round about us. We are called to fight the battle of faith every day, every minute of our lives, led by the Captain of our salvation, the Lord of glory, who directs us from the highest heavens through His Word and by His Spirit in our hearts.
We are warned that we have the most hostile, the most cunning, and even the most treacherous enemy that one can ever imagine. He is not seen. He prefers to work in secret, and you may even ignore the fact that he exists. He desires that he be denied or, if not denied, worshiped. He is the leader of a huge band of followers, including both his host of demons and the members of this present evil world. Ours is not a battle with an enemy off in the distance, or one that can be fought with earthly weapons. Ours is a hand-to-hand combat fought with spiritual weapons only. Scripture states: “For we wrestle (notice that, ‘wrestle’) not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
The devil may personally attack us as he did Eve in paradise, as he did Judas the betrayer, and as he did Jesus. But more likely he sends his demons to assault us. Maybe he even appoints one particular demon to spy on us, to discover our weaknesses, to choose the proper moment and the means or person to attack us, maybe even one of our own family or our closest friend. He sometimes comes as a roaring lion, filling us with terror, driving God’s sheep helter-skelter. At other times he comes slinking in quietly and unnoticed like a fox to devour us. He may even come as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or as an angel of light, treacherously threatening us with his cunning deception. The keyword is: Be strong!
Our enemy is in our home, in our school, or in our place of labor, in the church and all around in this present evil world. For the sinner and the world hate us. This enemy works among those who live in squalor as well as among those who are rich; he also works among the high and mighty, among those who are in authority in our land. He is everywhere. We are called to be alert, to be on our guard, to be strong against the foe, lest he make us his victims and lead us into shameful sin that breeds sin unto death, even the death in hell. For one sin leads to another that is worse than the previous one, until soul and body are destroyed. Nothing, absolutely nothing, no firm resolve, no psychologist, nor any other means can deliver us from the bondage of sin and death. No one but God in Christ Jesus!
Therefore we are called to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” This reminds us of Moses’ repeated admonition to Joshua, who was called to lead the armies of Israel to conquer the land of Canaan: “Be strong and of good courage, be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
To be strong in the Lord we must, first of all, be sure that we are in the Lord. That means that we were chosen in Christ from all eternity. We are one with Him as members of His body. It also means that when He died on the cross, we died in Him, and that when He arose, we arose in Him. As Paul states inEphesians 2:4-6, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sin, hath quickened us together with Christ, … and hath raised us up together (with Him).” We are willing soldiers in God’s regiment by our rebirth in Christ.
Our earliest training began in the home, was carried on in the Christian school by devoted teachers, and in the church by God-fearing pastors. Always we were encouraged, and still are, to be strong, not in our own strength, but in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Literally we read in the original: “be strengthened in the Lord.” That means that we do not fight in our own strength, but in the strength of the Lord. Our trust is not in the arm of flesh, but in the living God who sustains us and continually makes us strong in the faith by the Spirit of Christ in our hearts.
To be strengthened in the Lord also means that we constantly live in the conviction that we are righteous in Christ Jesus. We have a just cause, the cause of the living God, whose we are and whom we serve. We are well aware that sin still wars in our members, that our greatest battle is against the enemy within us. That, too, must be overcome with the strength of the power of the Lord.
This also means that we must be strengthened in the Lord in the sense that we surrender ourselves to His cause so completely that we are ready to give our all, our very lives. We live, not unto ourselves, but unto the Lord; and we die unto the Lord, for we are the Lord’s. Therefore, even in the heat of battle, we are confident that we are always victors in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The text also points out to us that we must be strengthened in the power of the Lord. That power is the almighty, sovereign, invincible power of the living God Himself. Sustained by that power, we also are invincible. No enemy can resist that power. “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? … In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:32, 37).
To be strengthened in the Lord and in the power of His might means that we must strengthen ourselves in the Lord and in the power of His might! We must do that, not once for all, but constantly, every day, every moment of our lives! To do that, God’s Word tells us, we must put on the whole armor of God! It is the armor God shapes and prepares in His arsenal for each of us, but, still more, by which means He gives us the victory over all our foes!
What is implied in putting on that armor? The instructions are given to us by the apostle.
In general it may be said: we must realize the importance of the Scriptures and make use of them. We must read them as God’s message to us, study it as our Book of Instruction. We must listen carefully to the preaching of the Word, and our lives must be brought in harmony with it.
We are told how extremely important this Word is in equipping us for battle. It is an essential part of our armor. For it is, first of all, the girdle of truth that we must buckle about our loins. It is, secondly, the holy gospel that we must put on as the shoes of preparedness, in order that we may stand firm, immovable in the strife. It is, thirdly, the one offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, whereby we fight off every enemy that attacks us, no matter how strong or numerous.
This is the weapon that Joseph used when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife: “Can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” David used it when he faced Goliath, saying: “I come tothee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.” Jesus used it twice against Satan with the emphatic words: “It is written,” and then: “Get thee behind Me, Satan.” Therefore we must gird ourselves with the girdle of truth, pull on the boots of preparedness, and take up the sword of the Spirit.
Moreover, we must place firmly on our chests “the breastplate of righteousness.” It is the positive assurance that we belong to the Captain of our salvation, our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, that we are righteous in Him, and therefore are called to fight His righteous cause in this present evil world. That breastplate is a strong protection for that vital organ within us, our heart! As Paul says: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
Besides that, and we are told that this is extremely important, we must firmly grasp in our left hand “the shield of faith, whereby we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” The enemy surrounds us wherever we turn. He showers his darts upon us—mind you, fiery darts, with the deliberate intent to kill us, not in the physical, but, still worse, in the spiritual sense. He wants to bring us along with him into hell. But the shield of faith is the bond that unites us to Christ and gives us confidence in Him. It is our sure protection. As Jonathan said to his armor-bearer as they approached the Philistine army, “There is no restraint by God to save by many or by few.” And moments later: “Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel.”
Finally, as the last of the defensive weapons, we need the “helmet of salvation.” It bears the insignia, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Lord.” We must be sure to put that on to protect our heads. It is the hope, the assurance, and the expectation of our eternal salvation. It is the confidence that even now, though we must die for God’s cause, we are more than conquerors in Him who loved us even unto death!
Put on the whole armor of God. Be strong! Be of good courage! Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed. Strengthen yourself in the power of His might.
We sing with the sweet singer of Israel:
Thou art, O God, our boast, the glory of our power;
Thy sovereign grace is e’er our fortress and our tower.
We lift our heads aloft, for God, our shield, is o’er us;
Through Him, through Him alone, whose presence goes before us,
We’ll wear the victor’s crown, no more by foes assaulted,
We’ll triumph through our King, by Israel’s God exalted.
(Psalter #422, stanza 6)